Shane Flavin/Jonah Castelhano
The Last Days of Pompeii 1935 poster

Plot Edit

In around 30-33 AD, a blacksmith named Marcus lives a happy life as a blacksmith with his wife and child. One day while out shopping, his family gets run over by a chariot. Marcus attempts to gather money to afford doctors for them by fighting as a gladiator, but they die before Marcus gains enough money. Angry that he did not have enough money to help his family, Marcus continues fighting in the gladiatorial arena as he believes that material wealth is all one needs in life.

While fighting in the arena, Marcus ends up killing a gladiator who had a son named Flavius. Marcus adopts the boy and later becomes a horse dealer. After learning from a soothsayer that the "greatest man in Judea" would help Flavius, Marcus travels to see Pontius Pilate. Pilate informs Marcus of a group of Ammonites who had vast wealth that could be raided. Marcus steals the riches from the Ammonites, but Flavius becomes ill. Marcus takes him to be healed by Jesus, the true "greatest man in Judea." Later, Marcus is forced to choose between saving his wealth and saving Jesus's life as he is being crucified. He chooses the former.

Many years later in 79 AD, Marcus has become a gladiatorial arena owner. Flavius plans on saving slaves from Marcus's arena, having become haunted with vague memories of Jesus. However, Flavius and the slaves he was trying to rescue end up being captured and forced into a gladiatorial game. At this point, Mount Vesuvius erupts and Pompeii is destroyed. In the chaos, Marcus ends up saving the son of the man who held Flavius captive in the arena, realizing that Jesus would have done the same. Marcus is again faced with the choice between saving people and saving his wealth. This time, he decides to abandon his wealth to save civilians and ends up saving his son in the confusion. Realizing that it was fate, Marcus sends a boat of rescued people away from Pompeii, staying behind to ensure they escape safely. Marcus then has a vision of the ghost of Jesus as he passes away in the rubble of Pompeii.

Cast Edit

  • Preston Foster as Marcus
  • Alan Hale as Burbix
  • Basil Rathbone as Pontius Pilate
  • John Wood as adult Flavius
  • Louis Calhern as Allus Martius
  • David Holt as young Flavius
  • Wyrley Birch as Leaster
  • Gloria Shea as Julia
  • Frank Conroy as Gaius Tanno
  • Murray Kinnell as Simon
  • Henry Kolker as Warder
  • Edward Van Sloan as Calvus

Historical Background Edit

Mount Vesuvius Edit

During the Last Days of Pompeii the obvious big scene in the movie is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. During the actual event in 79 AD, the volcano erupted spewing thousands of stones, ash, and molten lava upon the cities below. This eruption destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum During the eruption over 1000 known deaths occurred, although many speculate the death toll may have been much higher. Now Mount Vesuvius remains one of the most active and thus most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Being one of the only to erupt within the last 100 years, a serious blow would rupture through the incredibly population of 3 million that live in its surrounding area.

The Life and Crucifixion of Jesus Edit

While this movie relatively has little to do with the event or religious execution, it is in the years following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ During the years 30-33AD Jesus Christ was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. After being tried and sentenced, he was to be scourged and then hung amongst the thieves. During this time many came to watch and spare pieces of his clothing. A sentiment to his power and free will, the people of the town affixed a sign that read, "Jesus Christ, King of Jews," in three different languages. Finally after six hours of hanging he lay dead, and was later struck by spear to ensure his death. Following this was the occurrence of the spirit and supposed resurrection of Jesus, but that is a matter believed of people of Christianity belief.

Technical Elements Edit

Destruction of Pompeii Edit

The Last Days of Pompeii has an extensive destruction scene in which the city of Pompeii is destroyed by Mount Vesuvius. The scene was choreographed by Willis O'Brien and was created by the same team responsible for the special effects in King Kong (1933). The sets of the destroyed Pompeii are shown burning and effectively communicate the chaotic nature of the scene.

Blue-screening and Matte Paintings Edit


The film also makes use of blue-screening in some shots of Pompeii and anytime Mount Vesuvius is shown. Matte paintings are also used to display the city of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius whenever they show up on camera. Due to their use, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius effectively feel much larger, with Mount Vesuvius dwarfing the city and making the impending destruction seem all the more prevalent. During the eruption scene, a miniature of Mount Vesuvius is shown erupting.

Themes and Interpretations Edit

Materialism Edit

The most prevalent theme in The Last Days of Pompeii is that of materialism. The film takes a largely anti-materialist stance and instead suggests that spiritual wealth is more important. Marcus starts the film as a lowly blacksmith who is content with what money he has and with his family. Once they die due to his lack of money, Marcus realizes that material wealth is what is most important in life and becomes a gladiator. Through the course of the movie he slowly moves up in life and after stealing from the Ammonites he becomes very wealthy. He is later faced with the decision of whether or not to save Jesus from crucifixion or to save his wealth. He chooses the latter and many years later becomes a gladiatorial arena owner. Now very wealthy, Marcus still somewhat regrets his earlier decision. Once Mount Vesuvius erupts, Marcus is again faced with a choice between saving people or saving his wealth. This time, he chooses to save the people of Pompeii. Finally, Marcus has realized that material gain is not all that is important in life. He dies seeing the ghost of Jesus, and realizes that spiritual wealth was what he truly needed.

Linguistic Paradigm Edit

The Linguistic Paradigm is in full effect in The Last Days of Pompeii, with the antagonist of the movie, Pontius Pilate, being portrayed by a British actor. The protagonist, Marcus, is played by an American actor, and the result is a clear dichotomy between the two characters.

Male Sensuality Edit

The male physique is very much on display in the film, with almost no focus on the female physique. Male slaves are often shirtless and oiled. Marcus is often seen wearing a loose vest or, during the gladiator sequences, is seen shirtless and oiled up. A gigantic statue depicting a nude male gladiator is also seen inside Marcus's gladiatorial arena. Though there is one scene in the movie where a female slave is seen somewhat scantily clad as she is being auctioned off, the clear focus is on the male physique throughout the movie.

Sources Edit